Bhagavad Gita’s Karma Yoga: Part 1

Karma in Sanskrit is translated as action or work and commonly associated with external action or work done by living beings more specifically humans. But, action has varied interpretations in various contexts. Very often “Karma” is referred to in a derogatory sense, for e.g., some people say: “It is their karma and hence they tolerate something”. Many other people use it in the form of “justice” and give it terms such as “Instant karma”, where it is considered to be a “justice” for some action done, which is judged to be wrong. Yet, from the various Sanskrit texts that are present, “Karma” seems to mean none of these interpretations. Yes, it needs to be interpreted as “work”, but not the mind-based, so called “intelligent action” or “judgemental work or action” of the humans, but as purely the “work such as that which is defined in physics“. Yet, there is a small difference between the “work” defined in physics and “karma”, which gives this word a whole new meaning.

According to Britannica, Work in physics is defined as “a measure of energy transfer that occurs when an object is moved over a distance by external force“. This is a definition that works when there are observable objects (in our case matter) and observable motion associated with those objects. But, as I have indicated in the various translations, the ancient Sanskrit texts focus on science of the manifestation from the unmanifested. That is, they explain those concepts that translate that incomprehensible to this empirical world around us. In such a context, “observable objects or matter” is the final result of the science and not the science itself.  Hence, “work” cannot apply only to “observable objects”, they need to apply all the way through the process of translation or transformation which then includes that which is immovable and also that which is unobservable by this observable universe. Hence, the above definition of “work” has to be modified. What remains through all the immovable, unobservable and the movable and observable is “energy”, because most of the texts seem to talk first about “deva” or energy before anything else. Hence, the above definition of “work” in my view can be modified to: “work or karma is that which is done for energy translation to maintain the movable/immovable“.

It should be noted, that this definition of work is also related to “energy”, but a translation rather than a transfer and rather than being specifically for “motion in space”, it relates to “movement in kAla” and this makes all the difference. As I have said time and again, kAla while seems to be equivalent to time, in fact is a series of changes that appears as time to us and is evidenced by the fact that we track it using the “series of changes in the movement of the earth”. (Explained in book Surya Siddanta). Now, with this definition of “Karma”, if we translated the “Karma Yoga” chapter in Bhagavad Gita, we find what emerges is a totally different meaning from what is proposed in standard translations. In this and next few blogs I will translate the Karma Yoga chapter with this context.

The next concept that also needs to be remembered is the “concept of emergence of empirical reality” that is given in the Surya Siddanta. In short, what is proposed in the Surya Siddanta is: The incomprehensible indistinct truth first becomes an abundant inactive with different “concentrations of various natures”. Each “concentration of specific nature” tends to diffuse based on various factors. This diffusion can be seen as a chain of changes that can be measured as a chain of prANa, prANA combined into nADi and so on. Now, to this series of changes, if a recognisable pattern is associated it defines the logic of the “becomes”. This leads to more patterns emerging which then try to self-sustain by seeking for more changes that follow the same logic recognised. This causes the transformation of that logical series of becomes and tends to be viewed as a detached “I” and hence morphing into a self which is the observer, that is seeking a logical path. Multiple such selves is the source of reality around us. The tip of that detached series of becomes which looks at itself as an “I” with a path, is called the apex of the path which is seeking a logical way forward. We as in the “I” always exists at that apex, being pulled forward by the logic and having a reverse pull from other “I”‘s.  This is a very short summary of what is said in the Surya Siddanta and definitely does no justice to what is explained there. Yet, gives a context based on which the Karma Yoga verses can be understood.

I have started at the third verse, ignoring the questions of Arjuna which started this explanation.

Lokeasmin dvividhā niṣṭhā purā proktā mayānagha|
Jñānayogena sāṅkhyānāṁ karmayogena yoginām||3.3||

loke + asmin + dvi + vidha + niShTha + purA + prokta + maya + anagha = in the worlds + exists + two + knowledge + state + upto current + is said + made / consisting of + clear
jnana + yogena + sankhya + anaM + karma + yogena + yoginAM = knowledge + connected to + logic + thus / hence + work + connected to + that which joins / united

This translates to:

In the world, exists two knowledge, state upto the current is said to be consisting of pure knowledge connected to logic, that which unites connected to work.

saMkhya basically means rational or analytical or discriminative. While the chapter of saMkya yoga in Bhagavad Gita is interpreted typically as a series of dos and don’ts, it describes more an established logic due to the “series of becomes” that have defined this reality around us. So, when it says:

Acchedyo'yamadāhyo'yamakledyo'śoṣya eva ca|
Nityaḥ sarvagataḥ sthāṇuracalo'yaṁ sanātanaḥ||2.24||
Translates to:
It cannot be cut, cannot be burnt, cannot be wetted, cannot be dried, regularly all paths are firmly immovable and this is perpetual

The “it” here when considered as logic, this verse starts making sense. Obviously, the logic that is established by a series of becomes cannot be dealt with as if it is matter and it is the series of becomes that establishes the logic and hence it becomes immovable and perpetual. Thus, when we talk saMkya, we are talking about “logic”.

Coming back to our verse, we see that from the point of view of the “apex of a path”, which is where “I” at every and every present “am”, I can categorise my knowledge into two. “Looking back into the past I have have series of becomes which form a logic to me” and “the current apex where I am, a consolidated version of all those data points”. These two are connected by the work (as defined previously a translation of energy from some point to this point) that was done to get here. This is what this verse is telling.

Na karmaṇāmanārambhānnaiṣkarmyaṁ puruṣo'śnute|
na ca sannyasanādeva siddhiṁ samadhigacchati||3.4||
Na hi kaścitkṣaṇamapi jātu tiṣṭhatyakarmakṛt|
Kāryate hyavaśaḥ karma sarvaḥ prakṛtijairguṇaiḥ||3.5||

na + karmaNa + mana + araMbhan + na + niskarmayam + purusha + ashnate = not + due to action + manas + is started + nor + without action + soul of become + attain / reach / obtain
na + ca + sannaya + sanAdeva + siddhiM + sama + adhigacchati = not also + multitude + perpetual energy + achieve + equal + acquire / attain
na + hi + kashcit + kshanaM + api + jAtu + tiShThat + ya + karma + krt = not + because + surely / definitely + in a moment / for an instant + (further? / is / this / which) + possibly / at all / ever / once + being / abiding / staying + that + work + is made
kAryate + hya + vashaH + karma + sarvaH + prAkRti + jai + guNAiH = by action + previous + originated / begun + work + all + nature + (jaiva = individual soul?) + characteristics / qualities

Translates to:

Not due to work manas is started nor due to non-work soul of becoming is obtained, not also due to achieving perpetual energy equality is got. Further definitely not because in an instant possibly being, that work is made, acting on previously begun work is all nature of individual characteristics.

Now, that it is established that the “I” has got to this apex of an orbit due to work that connects the previous knowledge to the current state, the chapter goes on to dismiss certain mis-understanding that can occur. It says, just because work connected the two does not mean, that work or non-work became the cause of the existence of manas or the soul which drives it to a becoming state. It also states, energy is not made because of this work, and energy is required for work to be present.

Yet, what is interesting is that, it tells us acting on a work that was begun is the reason for the existence of characteristics. This goes to say that nature is a transformation over an underlying soul of becoming as opposed to being the “soul”.

Karmendriyāṇi saṁyamya ya āste manasā smaran|
Indriyārthānvimūḍhātmā mithyācāraḥ sa ucyate||3.6||
Yastvindriyāṇi manasā niyamyārabhate'rjuna|
Karmendriyaiḥ karmayogamasaktaḥ sa viśiṣyate||7||

karma + indriyANi + saMyamya + ya + Aste + manasA + smaran = work + senses / power / might + restrained / subdued / to be checked + if + remain / continue / be in one self / settle down / keep quite + with manas + recalled
indriya + artha + vimUDha + Atma + mithya + acAraH + sa + ucyate = senses / power / might + cause + delusion + self + false / untrue / contrary + wrongly / improper + movable (acara = immovable / cara = movable) + that + is said
yas + tva + indriyANi + manasA + niyamya + arabhate + arjuna = hot / eager / to exert oneself + several / other / different + power / might + of manas + having restrained / limited / subdued + (ara + bhate = spoke of a wheel? orbit? + becomes)
karma + indriyaiH + karma + yoga + gam + asaktaH + sa + vishiShyate = work + power/might + work + connected + to go / to move / approach + detached + that + that + (vi + shiShya + yatA = without + pupils? / instruction / taught? / passion / anger / violence? + held / restrained) (shiSh = to leave / join / connect / shiShyate = to be left or remain)

This translates to:

If by the power of restrained work can be recalled with a settled manas, the movement of the delusional self caused by power, that is false it is said. With the power of eager restrained manas orbit becomes the power of work connected work detaches, that without remainder is held.

Now that it has told us what work is not, it is telling us that work can be done driven by multiple things. It can be driven by a delusional self or the manas. If done with delusional self, it is false, my take here is that it is not retainable, similar to just an imagination, where as when driven by manas, it is retainable and adds to the logic that in the first place started the work to be done.

Continues in the next blog..

One Comment on “Bhagavad Gita’s Karma Yoga: Part 1

  1. Pingback: Bhagavad Gita’s Karma Yoga: Part 2 – Thoughts on Ancient Philosophy

%d bloggers like this: